The first time I met the professor who would eventually become my mentor, he asked me a very important question – “So, do you want to do good or do you want to do well?” I stared back at him blankly. He repeated, “Do you want to do good in the world or do you want to do well for yourself?” I immediately said, “Well, both.”
*Game show buzzer-sound indicating wrong answer*
He laughed and explained that’s what all college freshman say – that was a naïve answer and, apparently, the wrong one.
What I realize now is that my professor was making an important, although unwelcomed, point. There are jobs out there that pay a lot of money, but you aren’t directly bringing good into the world. And the reverse is true. Some of the best “do-gooder” jobs – non-profit employees, social workers – don’t make a lot of money. If you actually want to do both good and well in life, those jobs don’t come around often. In order to do good and do well, it’s not going to come easy and you have to make it a priority.
Which can be hard. For anyone out there who has a job, a second and/or third job, their passion projects, family, friends, significant others, and a social life – making the effort to bring good into the world can seem like a chore. Plus, if you aren’t curing cancer, you’re not doing a ton of good that’s making much of a difference, right?
One of my favorite quotes is by author Toni Morrison and it always keeps me grounded. She said, “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’”
Morrison takes what society sees as the “nice” thing to do and demands responsibility. She demands action. She demands for us to do more. So that’s the real question. How can you take your grind and benefit someone else? How can you empower others, help others, be an advocate or a champion for someone else?
Volunteering with a school to help beautify the exterior of the buildings, Ecuador, January 2015
Mark Zuckerberg’s 2017 Harvard commencement speech also laid out a challenge for the graduates. In it he says:
Today, I want to talk about purpose. But I’m not here to give you the standard commencement about finding your purpose. We’re millennials. We’ll try to do that instinctively. Instead, I’m here to tell you finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.
Zuckerberg’s speech is one that makes you stop and think. He’s asking that people not only find that purpose within themselves, but to help others find that within themselves too. (His speech continues by giving three specific ways to make this happen – so I recommend checking it out here.)
But, why bother doing that? What’s the point? He explains, “Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for.”
Helping a community in Nicaragua build garden beds with other Syracuse University students, May 2016.
If we are lucky enough to find that sense of purpose within ourselves, we have the responsibility to help others in their day-to-day lives – with their basic needs so that they can have the same opportunity to find their purpose. Curing cancer isn’t the only way to bring good into the world.
So, here’s my challenge to you. What steps can you take in the next week to do some good in the world? How can you take your passions, purposes, and skills and use them to empower someone else? You don’t have to invent the next societal-altering medicine or run out and apply to the Peace Corps. There is something already within you that can be used to help others.
If you don’t know where to start, here are a few recommendations:
- Skills for Change, powered by Sparked – This website allows you to use the skills you already have to help nonprofit organizations in need. Know how to code? Great. Social media and marketing? Perfect. Develop your skills. Get creative. Do some good. Most opportunities are virtual and don’t require going to a physical location.
- VolunteerMatch.org – Filter by location, cause, skills, and more to find opportunities in your area. Some of the volunteering is even virtual!
- Become a Mentor – Take what you’ve learned in life, and help someone else out. Become a mentor. There are a thousand different sites and ways to do this, but Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is a great place to start.
- Look around you – I found my current volunteer role on my commute. Every day on my way home from work, I passed a food pantry. I decided to look them up online and found out they had Saturday hours and were in need of some volunteers. After giving them a call, I came in the very next Saturday. That was almost a year ago now.
Maggie Tarasovitch is a writer and corporate analyst currently based in Columbus, OH. She is a graduate of Syracuse University.
What good did this article inspire you to do? Already involved in a project for good? We’d love to hear from you (and maybe feature you on the site!). Drop me a note at Maggie@UpByFive.com